The battle for digital transformation leadership: Does the CMO stand a chance?

Marketing’s newfound reliance on data and analytics has blurred the lines between the IT and marketing functions. Two departments that have previously had very little in common with each other have suddenly found themselves in similar circumstances; both are being asked to spearhead change to transition their organisations from traditional models into digital-first, customer-centric businesses. This has led to much talk about the ‘turf war’ between marketing and IT over digital ownership, but recent studies show that the competition is not as close as it would appear.

The truth is in the stats

In a study conducted by Accenture Interactive and Forrester Consulting last year, participants at 396 companies globally were asked who they believe should own their organisations’ digital vision and strategy. 30% of respondents stated that the CIO is the right one for the job, followed by the CEO with 27%, the CDO (Chief Digital Officer) with 17%, and lastly the CMO with just 8%. But these opinions were in contrast with who was actually setting the digital vision and strategy. In 38% of organisations, the CEO was the digital leader, and in 33% the CIO, followed by the CDO (10%) and the CMO (8%). Forrester found that this apparent confusion over who should ‘own’ digital is preventing firms from executing their digital strategies. This would explain why only 5% of organisations reported that they have being able to turn digital into a competitive differentiator.

Similar results were found in the 2016 Harvey Nash Consulting/KPMG CIO Survey we reported on in last week’s blog. In 21% of the 400 organisations studied, the CEO is in charge of digital. Again, less evidence of a turf war between marketing and IT was found, with IT leaders almost twice as likely to lead digital transformation (18%) than their marketing counterparts (9%). 20% of organisations choose to hire a CDO to oversee digital strategy and implementation, a figure that has almost tripled since 2014. And while 21% of CDOs report to the CIO, more than double (46%) report to the CEO. But as we discussed in a previous blog, it is common – and more effective ­­­– for CIOs and CDOs to work together, as together they create what Logicalis calls ‘digital symmetry’. As an article in Enterprise Apps Today stated, two digital transformation leaders are better than one, believing the job to be too big for a single person. This was a conclusion made from a survey conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), which found that at least two C-level share digital leadership responsibilities at 59% of respondent organisations. An interesting finding to come out of this survey was that this ‘shared C-level executive model’ is more common among firms that identify as being “ahead of the curve in digital transformation” and have effectively followed through on their digital strategies.

Follow the leader

Digital transformation requires leadership that can align departmental stakeholders behind a clear vision. For it to be successful, the lines of business must work collaboratively toward achieving a shared objective, under the guidance of the CIO and a digital lead. For those organisations where hiring a CDO is not feasible, consultation with external partners is another option. Not only is it a more efficient (and often cheaper) way of gaining access to digital expertise, it bridges organisational divides and eliminates the issue of confusion over digital ownership.

Interested in learning more? Click here to download our practical guide for leading change in the digital era.

Tags CIO, CMO, digital strategy, Digital Transformation, CEO, digital symmetry, IT function, IT leaders


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